March 15 (UPI) -- A California jury on Wednesday awarded $33.5 million in a wrongful death lawsuit to the parents of an unarmed man who was shot by a San Bernardino Sheriff's deputy in 2015.
The jury took two hours to decide that the parents of Nathaniel Pickett, Jr. should be awarded $15.5 million in compensatory damages and $18 million in punitive damages.
"It's the jury's way of saying they will not tolerate the continued police shootings of unarmed people. The message it sends is that unjustified shootings will not be tolerated," said Dale Galipo, the civil rights attorney who represented the Pickett family, the San Bernardino Sun reported.
On Nov. 19, 2015, Deputy Kyle Woods approached Pickett in the parking lot of the El Rancho Motel in Barstow, Calif., where Pickett was living at the time. Woods suspected Pickett of trespassing, began questioning him and believed he was under the influence.
Woods then attempted to arrest Pickett, but Pickett fled. At that point, the facts of what happened remain disputed.
Woods says he got into a scuffle with Pickett and was overpowered by the 29-year-old, who hit him in the head multiple times before reaching for his gun. When Woods began to feel light-headed from the blows to his head, he warned Pickett he would shoot before he fired his weapon twice into Pickett's upper torso.
The deputy was cleared of any wrongdoing in November 2016.
But a surveillance video that captured part of the encounter shows Woods on Pickett's back and hitting him as the two appear to tangle before the fatal shot is fired.
And according to the police investigation, other than the citizen's deputy who was doing a ride-along with Woods at he time, several witnesses said they didn't see or hear Pickett beating Woods, but did see and hear the deputy beating Pickett.
The Pickett family's attorneys argued that Woods actually shot Pickett before they wrestled Deputy Woods then "to cover up Deputy Woods' unlawful shooting of Pickett."
"It was a made-up story," Galipo said. "The jury realized it was all made-up."
San Bernardino Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman told the Los Angeles Times the agency was unhappy with the jury's decision.
"Our attorneys, the department and the county will be discussing appealing the jury's award," she said.